American Reform Responsa
59. Naming of Children
(Vol. XLII, 1932, pp. 316-360)
Names of persons, among the Jews as among other peoples of antiquity, were considered of great importance and regarded as possessing special significance. They were not merely designations whereby a person might be distinguished from other persons in the group. They were believed to serve other purposes besides those of identification and recognition. To the question, “What is in a name?” the ancient Jews–and, to a certain extent, their later descendants–would answer: “There is a whole lot in it.” Hence, great importance has been attached among the Jews of all times to the selection of a proper and fitting name for the newly born child.
The Bible does not expressly tell us by what considerations one should be guided in the selection of a name, nor does it clearly formulate any definite theories about the significance of names. But from various casual remarks about individual names, scattered through the Bible, we may gather what ideas and beliefs prevailed among the people of Biblical times, in connection with personal names and their significance.
Without entering into a lengthy discussion of the Biblical names, their meaning and significance, we may safely state that the following ideas concerning the purpose, function, and significance1 of personal names were current among the people of Biblical times.2
(1) The purpose of a name is to describe adequately the personality of its bearer, to identify him, and to make him recognizable as a distinct individual not only by his fellow human beings, but also in the world of the spirits by angels or demons, who might have something to do with him as a distinct individual. This purpose of adequately describing the person and marking him as a distinct individual is accomplished by choosing a name which would point to some characteristic or indicate some peculiarity in the person himself, or allude to his origin, to the station or social position into which he was born, or to the circumstances surrounding his birth in the world in general or in his family or group.
(2) The name has still another purpose in that it may be prophetic of the fortunes and the experiences of the person to whom it is given. It has, accordingly, the function of suggesting what the person is to be. It predicts his future and determines his fate.3 It presages his history and experiences in life, pointing to the great things he will accomplish–as in the case of Noah (Gen. 5:29)–or to the conditions that will prevail or the events that will happen during his lifetime–as in the case of Peleg (Gen. 10:25) and of Solomon (I Chron. 22:9). In other words, nomina sunt omina.
(3) Even more: the belief in the power of the uttered word, namely, that by merely saying something we might actually bring it about–a belief current among Jews in Biblical times as among other ancient peoples– caused another notion to be cherished in connection with proper names. This was that by giving the child a certain name, we produce in him the qualities indicated by that name. The name given to a person, so it was believed, may influence his character and actually make him what the name would suggest him to be. Thus Jacob’s conduct towards his brother Esau was suggested and, as it were, predetermined by his very name (Gen. 27:36). A man’s character, so it was believed, is what his name pronounces it to be: “For, as his name is, so is he” (I Sam. 25:25).
(4) As a corollary of the belief in the absolute identity of the name with the personality, there was another belief current in Biblical times, namely, that when the two no longer coincide, they must be made to coincide. When a change takes place in the person, there must go with it a corresponding change in the name.4In other words, when a person s name, for one reason or another, no longer adequately describes his personality or expresses his character and fortunes, or when a change in the character and fortunes or position is wished for, the name must accordingly be changed. The practice of changing the name of a person is recorded in many instances in the Bible. The names of Abram and Sarai are changed to Abraham and Sarah (Gen. 17:5 and 15) to suggest and, in a manner, make possible the change in their position and fortunes. Jacob’s name is changed to Israel to indicate a change in his character and to point to his achievements which gave him a new position (Gen. 32:29; 35:10). Jacob changes the name of his second child from Rachel, whom the mother had called Ben Oni (“the son of my sorrow”) to Benjamin (“the son of my right hand”), probably to suggest better luck for the child. Likewise, Moses changes the name of Hosea the Son of Nun to Joshua (Num. 13:16), probably also to suggest success and good luck on his trip with the spies.5 And Naomi expressly says, “Call me not Naomi, that is, Pleasant; call me Marah, that is Bitter, for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me” (Ruth 1:20).
(5) Still another belief intimately connected with, or resulting from, the belief in the mystical identity of the personality with the name, was that one cannot exist without the other. Just as a man’s name lives with him as long as he is kept alive, so also he lives with his name as long as the latter is kept alive. It was believed, then, that if, and as long as, a person’s name is kept alive and remembered, the person himself continues to live. Complete obliteration of a man’s name meant his utter destruction. He is “cut off from the land of the living and his name is no more remembered” (Jer. 11:19). “To make their memory (i.e., of people) cease from among men” meant to “make an end of them” (Deut. 32:26).
Hence, great importance was attached to the preservation of the name of a person, which meant the securing of a sort of immortality for that person. Preservation of the name merely meant remembering that name. This remembering of the name, however, was–in Biblical times at least–not to be achieved by calling other persons, children or descendants, by the same name-. It was to be insured by leaving someone or something, children or property, which–having belonged to that person–would always be identified with his name, so that subsequent generations, in referring to his descendants or his property, would mention the name of the person who was the ancestor of those descendants or the original owner or builder of that property. In this manner would his name be recalled and remembered. That this–and not the naming of descendants by the same name–was the manner in which the memory of a name was to be insured, is evident from a few instances in the Bible. Thus, the daughters of Zelophehad could see no way of preventing their dead father’s name from being “done away from among his family” other than by obtaining a possession among the brethren of their father (Num. 2:4), for this possession which was due their father would be known as their inheritance from their father Zelophehad, and thus his name would be remembered. If the name of the father could have been kept alive and remembered merely by naming their children after their father, they would have had no valid reason for their claim to a possession among the brethren of their father.
Again: Absalom, who had no son to keep his name in remembrance, erected for himself a pillar which was called “Absalom’s Monument,” and thus caused his name to be remembered (II Sam. 18:18). Likewise: to prevent the name of the brother who died childless from being blotted out of Israel, the firstborn that his widow bears to his brother, her second husband, must “succeed in the name of the brother that is dead” (Deut. 25:5-6). This means not that he should be named like the dead brother, but that he should be known as and called the dead brother’s son, thus keeping the dead brother’s name in remembrance. It did not mean that he should be called by the same name as the dead brother.6This is evident from the fact that the son that Ruth bore to Boaz was called Oved and not Mahlon, like Ruth’s first husband (Ruth 4:17). But he must have been called Oved the son Mahlon, so that the women, in calling him by this name, could well say: “There is a son born to Naomi.” For Naomi’s husband Mahlon was in a manner reborn because his name would from then on be kept alive and remembered.
Likewise, when Jacob, in blessing Joseph and his children, said, “And let my home and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac be called on them” (Gen. 48:16), he only meant that when people will call or refer to Ephraim and Manasseh as the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the latter names- thus would be recalled and remembered. He certainly did not mean that Ephraim and Manasseh, or any of their children, should be named after their grandfathers and be given the name of Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob.7 For, as far as the Bible records show, no child was ever named after Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. In fact, with but one possible exception, we do not find in the Bible any instances of, or references to, the custom in pre-exilic times8of naming children after parents or grandparents, deceased or alive. This absolute and persistent silence about such a custom strongly suggests that not only was such a custom not in vogue, but that there were definite objections to, and a determined avoidance of such a practice. These objections to, or avoidance of this practice would seem to have been based upon the very belief in the mystical identity of the name with the personality.
This belief in the absolute identity of the person with the name precluded, at least in the popular mind, the possibility of two persons in the same family, or the same group, having the same name. For it would mean having one and the same individuality (designated by and identical with that name) exist as two, which, of course, is impossible. There could be two persons having the same first name given to them in order to predict success or describe similar circumstances which prevailed at the time of the birth of both (or of each one) of them, or to express the same ambitions cherished for each by its parents. In such a case, each one– being further described as “the son of so-and-so”–would thus be marked off as a separate and distinct individuality, different from the one with the similar name belonging to a different group or family. But in one and the same family no two persons could conceivably have one and the same name.
The individuality and character which are expressed by, and are absolutely identical with a certain name, could belong to only one person in the same group or family. To give the name of one person to another of the same group or family would, according to popular conception, mean to transfer the very being, the individuality, of the one person who is identified with the name to another person in the family, with the result that the one from whom the name (with the personality identical with it) is taken must cease to exist. The same consideration would keep people from naming children after deceased relatives or ancestors. To give the child the name of a departed ancestor would, according to the popular conception in Biblical times, not have the effect of keeping the memory of the name of the deceased alive. It would have just the opposite effect. It would destroy and wipe out the remembrance of the departed. For all that goes with his name–his very being, his memory, and the mystical associations connected with it–would have been transferred to another person to whom the name had been given and who would now be identical with that other individual. At the mention or recall of that name, subsequent generations would have in mind and keep alive the memory of the second bearer and not the original bearer of the name from whom it had been taken.
It may, therefore, be stated with absolute certainty that in pre-exilic times the selection of a name for a child was determined solely by consideration for the child itself. The name was to serve the purpose of adequately describing and identifying the person by pointing to his origin and history, suggesting his character, or predicting his future. Consideration of the memory of another person, parent or grandparent, never entered into the selection of a name for a child. For the name per se given to any person was not to serve as a reminder of any person who may have previously had the same name. We do not find in the Bible any indication of the pre-exilic custom of naming children after their ancestors. We have no record in the Bible of a person in pre-exilic times being named after his grandfather, with but one exception. Nachor, the brother of Abraham, had the same name as his grandfather. For Terach’s father’s name was likewise Nachor (Gen. 11:2526).9 But even in this one exceptional case, we have no indication that the reason Terach named his son Nachor was to keep alive the memory of his father. Most likely the same circumstances or conditions that determined the selection of the name for the grandfather prevailed also in the case–or at the time of the birth–of the grandson, and these (not the consideration for the memory of the grandfather) determined the selection of the name. In the genealogical list of the kings of the House David, no two persons appear with the same name.10 Likewise, in the list of the High Priests of the First Temple, as given in Ezra 7:1-5 and I Chron. 6:35-38, no name is repeated.11
In post-exilic times, however, and especially with the Hellenistic period, we notice a remarkable change in the practice of selecting names for children. In the list of the names of the High Priests of the Second Temple, of the Maccabean rulers, and later on in the family of Hillel (as well as of later Talmudic teachers) we find many instances of a grandson having the same name as the father. This clearly points to the prevalent practice of naming children after their grandparents. Now, among the Greeks it was the general custom to give the children the names of their grandparents. It would, however, be a mistake to assume with L. Loew12 that the Palestinian Jews of the period of the Second Temple borrowed this custom from the Greeks. For we find instances of a grandson having the same name as his grandfather among the Palestinian Jews of post-exilic times even before they came in contact with the Greeks.13 Then again, we find that among the Elephantine Jews, children were named after their grandparents.l4 As the custom of naming children after ancestors was prevalent among the Egyptians, the Elephantine Jews no doubt borrowed this custom from their Egyptian neighbors. And it is reasonable to assume that from the Elephantine Jews the custom came to the Palestinian Jews (if they did not get it from the Egyptians directly). But, no doubt, changed conditions or beliefs among the Palestinian Jews must have helped to make this foreign custom generally accepted. Certainly the innovation of a practice unknown in pre-exilic times could not have been introduced without corresponding changes of ideas–or at least certain modifications of those ideas–prevailing in the pre-exilic times, which precluded or prevented the practice represented by the innovation. The fact that this new custom of naming children after ancestors represented a departure from the custom which prevailed in pre-exilic times and was recognized by the people as such, is expressly stated by two rabbis of the second century, who also advanced theories of their own as to the reasons for this innovation. The statements of these two teachers, R. Jose b. Chalafta and R. Simon b. Gamliel, are found in the Midrash Gen. R. 37.10, and read as follows: “Rabbi Yosei omer: ‘Harishonim, al yedei shehayu makirim yachaseihem, hayu motsi-in leshem hame-ora, aval anachnu, she-ein anu yode-in et yechaseinu, anu motsi-in leshem avoteinu. Rabban Shim-on ben Gamli-el omer: ‘Harishonim, al yedei shehayu mishtameshin beruach hakodesh, hayu motsi-in leshem hame-ora, aval anu, she-einenu mishtameshin beruach hakodesh, anu motsi-in leshem avoteinu.”‘ “R. Jose says: ‘The ancients [or former generations], who well knew their genealogical descent, would name their children according to special occasions or with reference to some event. We, who do not so well know our genealogical descent, give our children the names of our ancestors.’ R. Simon b. Gamliel says: ‘The ancients, because they could make use of the Holy Spirit, would name their children according to special occasions or with reference of some event. We, who cannot make use of the Holy Spirit, give our children the names of our ancestors.”’l5
It should be stated first that both these teachers agree as to the time of the period in which the new practice came into vogue; they differ only as to the reason for, or the cause of the innovation. For the term “the ancients” or “former generations” (“harishonim”) is understood by both to mean the people of pre-exilic times or the generations up to Ezra (as contrasted with the generations after Ezra, or the people during the time of the Second Temple and after its destruction).
According to Talmudic tradition, there were especially two features which distinguished the period of the Second Temple from that of the First Temple, marking off the former as inferior in comparison with the latter. The one characteristic of the period of the Second Temple was the absence of the revelation of the Holy Spirit (or the cessation of prophecy). For “with the death of the last of the prophets, Haggai, Zachariah, and Malachi [i.e., at the beginning of the period of the Second Temple], prophecy ceased in Israel and the Holy Spirit no longer revealed itself” (Tosefta, Sota 13.2, and B. Yoma 9b). The other feature was the presence, to a considerable proportion, of foreign elements in the population. Among the people who returned with Ezra and formed the new community–not to mention those who had remained in the land and later formed a part of the new community–there were many people of non-Jewish descent or at least people who were unable to trace their genealogies and could not prove their Jewish descent (M. Kiddushin 4.1).16
It was one or the other of these conditions which prevailed during the time of the Second Temple and distinguished it from the period preceding it, that–according to the respective opinions of R. Jose and R. Simon b. Gamliel–was responsible for the innovation of naming children after ancestors. According to R. Jose, it was the composite character of the population–the fact that not all the people could accurately trace their genealogy and prove with certainty their purely Jewish descent–that prompted many people to call their children by the names of their fathers, thus pointing to their Jewish origin and indicating by their very names that they were descended from Jewish ancestors. This theory of R. Jose, however, is insufficient to explain the change in the practice. For, on the one hand, we find, as far as our records show, that the practice of naming children after their grandparents was first introduced among the families of the High Priests, about whose pure Jewish descent there was not the least doubt, and who, therefore, did not need to indicate by the names which they gave their children that the latter were descended from good Jewish families. On the other hand, we find that proselytes were called by such names as Judah and Benjamin.l7Hence, even names of great Jewish forefathers would not necessarily prove the pure Jewish descent of their bearers. These two facts are sufficient to disprove the theory of R. Jose.
According to R. Simon b. Gamliel, it was the absence of the Holy Spirit–the fact that they could no longer make use of divine inspiration in order to suggest or determine by the very name which they gave their children what the latter’s fate and destiny should be– that caused the people to name their children after their ancestors. This theory is not satisfactory, either. In the first place, even in pre-exilic times, in the age of prophecy, the Holy Spirit was not poured out over all flesh, and not all the people were favored with divine inspiration; and yet all the people gave their children’s names leshem hame-ora, according to the occasion, or alluding to certain conditions or events. And in post-exilic times, notwithstanding the fact that prophecy had ceased, the Holy Spirit was not altogether absent and there were, according to Talmudic reports, instances of manifestations of the Holy Spirit even during the times of the Second Temple.18
Accordingly, the difference between the pre-exilic and post-exilic times as regards the manifestation of the Holy Spirit was merely one of degree. Furthermore: in general the people during the period of the Second Temple and even after its destruction, without claiming any prophetic powers, nevertheless believed–as we shall see–in the suggestive, if not the absolutely determinative, influence of the names upon the fortunes and characters of their bearers. Hence, the cessation of prophecy or the infrequency of the manifestation of the Holy Spirit could have been no reason why the people should not continue as in former times to give their children such names as would express their hopes and aspirations for their fortunes. At any rate, such names as are not of a prophetic nature and do not seek to express any hopes for the future, but which merely point to a characteristic of the child or refer to the circumstances at the time of its birth (e.g., Isaac, Perez, and Zerah), could certainly have continued to be given by people who not only disclaimed any prophetic powers but even disbelieved in the suggestive powers of any uttered name.
Accordingly, neither R. Jose nor R. Simon b. Gamliel with their respective theories satisfactorily explain why the older practice of pre-exilic times should not have continued in post-exilic times. In fact, upon a closer scrutiny of their statements, we find that these two rabbis do not even say that the older practice was discarded. For they do not say: “Ein anu motsi-in leshem hame-ora,” “We no longer give our children names referring to an occasion or event.” All they say is: “We give our children names like the names of our ancestors.” This by no means implies an abolition of the older practice. Indeed, the older custom was never abolished or discarded. It has continued, though not so universally as before, throughout the Talmudic period and up to the present day.19Hence, what is historically accurate in the statements of these two teachers is that the innovation of naming children after ancestors came into use not to the exclusion, but alongside, of the older practice. Their theories as to the cause of, or reason for, the innovation we have found to be insufficient. But if the older practice was never abolished and the innovation merely represented an additional practice which gradually became more and more universally accepted, it is perhaps a mistake to ascribe it to one cause or to seek to account for it by one reason only. Undoubtedly, the custom of naming children after their ancestors, so prevalent in Talmudic times and ever since, was the result of a long and gradual process whereby a foreign custom, finding its way into the life of the people, was helped and furthered by, and in turn effected, changes and modifications in some popular beliefs which were opposed to such a practice.
We must, therefore, seek to ascertain what ideas were current among the people in Talmudic times in regard to the function, purpose, and possible effects of proper names, and examine to what degree they represent developments in and modifications of ideas of Biblical times. This will explain how a custom unknown in pre-exilic times came to be so prevalent in post-exilic times, and will also help us to understand all the practices that obtained in Talmudic times in connection with naming children.
There is especially one popular belief current in Talmudic times which will help us understand the ideas which the people entertained in regard to the selection of names. This is the belief in the power of the uttered word–or at any rate intimately connected with it–i.e., the notion that the agents of the heavenly administration, both good and bad angels, or angels and demons, were, like human agents, liable to misunderstanding and mistakes.
When three heavenly agents or floating spirits hear the word uttered by any human being, they are not always quick to recognize that it is a human voice speaking. They sometimes mistake it for the voice of a spirit or of a heavenly authority giving them an order which they must carry out.20 If the uttered word pronounces something good, the good angels–eager to do good–hasten to fulfill it in the belief that they are carrying out a command from on high. On the other hand, if the word uttered is of an evil nature, the floating bad angels or demons–always eager to do harm–seize upon it quickly and hasten to bring about the evil,21believing that in doing so they act under the authority of a higher command. These two beliefs, the one in the power of the uttered word and the other in the fallibility of the spirits, largely determined the attitude of the people in the selection of names for their children.
Because of the power attached to the uttered word, it was believed that the name given to a person actually influenced his character and determined his destiny and his future. This belief is clearly expressed in the following statement of the Talmud (B. Berachot 7b): “Mina lan dishma garem? Amar Rabbi El-azar: ‘De-amar kera, Lechu chazu mif-alot YHWH asher sam shamot baarets. Al tikrei shamot ela shemot.'” (“How do we know that the name is a determining factor in the character and destiny of a person? Said R. Eleazar: ‘Scripture says: Come, behold the workings of the Lord who hath accomplished shamot in the earth (Ps. 46:9). Do not read Ahamot which is rendered desolations but read shemot, meaning names”‘). In this verse, then, R. Eleazar finds expressed the idea that in dealing with human beings the Lord, through His agents, carries out what their names suggest, or, as Rabbi Samuel Eidels in his comment on this passage explains it: “Shepe-ulot Hashem nimshachim acharei hashem shel adam shehu gorem” (“The divine workings are controlled by or follow the suggestions contained in the name of the person”). This simply means that the heavenly agents take a person at his name’s value. Believing that the name of a person had been decreed or pronounced upon him by a higher authority, they proceed to carry out all that the name implies and endow that person with goodness or wickedness, or bestow upon him happiness or misery, according to the meaning of the name. R. Meir, a famous teacher of the second century, seems to have been very much addicted to this belief, and he always paid special attention to names. From the very name of a man he would draw conclusions about his character. Thus, in the well-known story told in Yoma 83b, he concluded from the very name of an innkeeper that he was a wicked man, and he proved to be right. Here the Biblical idea that a man is what his name pronounces him to be again comes to the fore. The name given to a person cannot remain ineffective. It is bound to make his character coincide with it. Hence, in a later Midrash it is strongly recommended that one should be careful in examining the meaning of names, so as to call his son by a name which would destine him to become a righteous man, for indeed often 22the very name causes goodness or badness of character: “Le-olam yivdok adam bashemot likro livno hara-uy lihyot tsadik, ki lif-amim hashem gorem tov o gorem ra” (Midrash Tanchuma,Ha-azinu 7).
The idea which we find current in Biblical times (i.e., that the identity of the name with the person demands that they coincide and that a change in the one of necessity requires or automatically produces a corresponding change in the other) was also current in Talmudic times. In Talmudic times, however, one aspect of it–namely, that a change in the name effects a change in the status or destiny of the person–is more developed and more emphasized. The other aspect of this idea–namely, that a change in status or position requires a corresponding change of the name–is not so much emphasized, though from many indications we may conclude that it also obtained in Talmudic times. Thus, e.g., R. Meir, whose original name was Me’asha, is said to have been given the name Meir, which means “enlightener,” after he had become a great scholar, one who enlightened the eyes of the wise in the study of the Law (Eruvin 13b; see Dikdukei Soferim, ad loc.).
The belief that a change in the name effects a change in the status was strongly developed and almost generally accepted in Talmudic times, because of its connection with, or the support it derived from, the other notion so generally accepted in Talmudic times, namely, the fallibility of the spirits. It was believed that if a person is called by another name, the spirits, angels, or demons, who look for him under his old name, cannot find him. For under the new name they imagine him to be another person, a person about whom they have no order or against whom they have no charge or grudge. Thus, to escape danger from demons, it was considered an effective protection for husband and wife to exchange their names: he called himself by her name and she by his. The demons who might seek to harm the gentleman would find a person who, judging by his name, was a lady, whom they would refrain from harming. Likewise, the demons who might pursue the lady would give up their evil designs if they should find instead of the lady a person who, as the new name indicated, was a gentleman. The Talmud (Shabbat 67b) describes this practice of exchanging names as heathen superstition (Darchei HaEmori),23 and is inclined to object to it. Yet the Talmud considers it perfectly good Jewish belief, that by a change of name one might escape the punishment decreed against him by the heavenly court. There are four procedures by which a person may cause the evil decree issued against him to be torn and destroyed, says the baraita R.H. 16b, and one of them is changing the person’s name. Some people say that a change of place or residence may have the same effect.24
It is possible–though rather doubtful–that the old idea that a man’s character is what his name declares it to be, and that by changing the name an actual change in the character is effected, also underlies the belief that a change of name can nullify the verdict against the person (as indeed some medieval authorities would explain it).25 The person whose name has been changed–so these authorities rationalize–has by repentance actually become another, better person no longer capable of persisting in the sins committed by the person with the other name and the wicked character. Hence, he is not to suffer punishments for them. But the real reason for the favorable effects of the change of name–at least to the popular mind–was that the change of name, like the change of residence, furnishes the person an escape from the danger of the evil decreed against him. The decree against him simply cannot be executed; the agent charged with carrying out the decree simply cannot locate or is unable to identify him.26 The angels go only by name and address. If they come to the given address and, looking there for a person with a certain name, do not find such a person (either because he has moved away or because the occupant goes by a name different from the one they are looking for), they report that they could not find him or that no such man can be found in the designated residence. The verdict is then destroyed as useless. That the angels can and do make such mistakes in persons–mistakes which might even result in a miscarriage of justice by the heavenly administration–is evident from the following story told in the Talmud (Chagiga 3b-4a): The Angel of Death was ordered to put to death Mary the hairdresser,27 but by mistake he put to death an innocent little schoolteacher by the name of Mary, whom, because of the similarity of names, he mistook for the woman sentenced to death.28 And while the heavenly superiors pointed out to the Angel of Death the mistake he had made, and perhaps reprimanded him, the life of young Mary the schoolteacher was not restored; she remained in the other world whither she had been transferred by the mistake of the angel.29 When giving their children names like those of their ancestors, people were influenced to a great extent by those beliefs in the suggestiveness of the name and in the fallibility of the angels and demons. They would select the name of an ancestor whom they believed to have been a good man and a successful man.- The benefits of such a name for the child were twofold: in the first place, since shema garem, i.e., the name is a determining factor in the destiny of the person, this name which manifestly had been so successful in the case of its former bearer (i.e., the ancestor) would presumably have the same good effects upon the destiny and character of its new bearer (i.e., the child).30Secondly, in case the angel should make a mistake in the person by the similarity of names, it would be in favor of the child. The child might be mistaken by the spirits for the ancestor whose name he bears and be treated with the consideration due to the ancestor, or credited with the achievements recorded in heaven to the account of the ancestor.
They would avoid naming a child after an ancestor or relative who was wicked (Yoma 38b)31 for fear of the twofold danger involved in such a procedure. In the first place, the name may actually make the child’s character and destiny be like the wicked relative’s. Secondly, the child might be mistaken by the spirits for the older wicked person by that name. All the evil decreed against that former bearer of the name and all the accusations recorded against him might be charged to the child, who might thus be made to suffer all the punishments for them.32
The primary consideration in choosing a name for the child was still the welfare, future, and destiny of the child itself–how it might be affected by the name. It seems, however, that during Talmudic times there was combined with this chief consideration a secondary consideration, namely, the effect upon the person after whom the child was to be named, whether the memory of that person should be kept alive or let rot and fall into oblivion. Due to the gradual spread of the custom of naming children after ancestors, there developed a modification of the belief in the absolute identity of the name with the person, which had made it impossible in Biblical times for two persons belonging to the same family or group to have the same name. It is true, the persistent avoidance of giving children such names as Abraham,33 Moses,34 Aaron,35 or David,36 which is so pronounced throughout the Talmudic period, would suggest that, at least in regard to certain great names, the ancient Biblical belief was still strong.37 In general, however, it seems that the fear that, by naming a child after an ancestor, the memory of the latter would be forgotten, because all that had been associated with his name was transferred to the new bearer of the name, was apparently no longer entertained. It seems that somehow the people came to believe that it was possible for two individuals to be referred to or designated by the same name, and that by giving a child the name of an ancestor the memory of the latter is thereby preserved and kept alive. Whenever the child would be called or referred to by that name, as it was believed, people would also be reminded of the former or original bearer of the name. Hence, as already stated, to the consideration of the welfare of the child in choosing the name of an ancestor there was added, in the popular mind, the secondary consideration of preserving the memory of the name of the ancestor who was believed to have been a righteous man. And to the reason for avoiding the giving of the name of a wicked person to a child because of the danger to the child there was now added another motive, namely, the desire to cause the name of the wicked to rot, and to avoid preserving his memory by having someone else bear his name.
Likewise, the fear that by giving the name of one person to another, the very being, the personality identical with the name, is transferred to the other person, and the one from whom the name is taken must therefore cease to exist (a fear which, as we have seen, was also a result of the belief in the absolute identity of the name with the person) was also generally abandoned. Not only were people not afraid for their lives when children were named like them, but they were even pleased with it and welcomed it, since it meant that the preservation of their memory was thus assured them even in their lifetime. Thus R. Nathan, a teacher of the second half of the second century, reports that in his travels he occasionally was able, by his advice, to save the lives of newborn children. The parents of those children, out of gratitude to him–and probably to suggest that their children will grow up and become men as good as R. Nathan–named their children Nathan, after him (Chulin 47b). And R. Nathan was rather pleased with this expression of gratitude. Hence, we find throughout the entire Talmudic period that not only would people name their children after departed ancestors, but that there was no hesitancy even to name children after living parents or grandparents.38 It is true that in many instances reported in the Talmud of a son’s having the same name as his father or grandfather, we cannot definitely ascertain whether the father or grandfather was still living when the child was named after him. Thus, in the case of R. Chananiah, the son of Chananiah mentioned in the Tosefta Nida V.15, there is no doubt that the father was living when the son was named after him. For we are told that when the son was still a minor the father made the vow for him which caused him to become a Nazarite. Likewise, in Luke 1:60 it is reported that the child John was originally called Zachariah after the name of his grandfather who was then still living. One may wonder why–! in spite of the belief that the Angel of Death was liable to get confused and mistake the one person for another of the same name–the people were nevertheless not afraid that when the Angel of Death comes to call for the old grandfather he might by mistake take the child having the same name. But one need not expect superstition to be consistent. The older man may even have hoped that the stupidity of the Angel of Death might work in his favor. And when the Angel of Death comes to take his life, the old man might be able to put him off and fool him by declaring that his time has not come yet, for a certain number of years had been allotted to him (as the heavenly record would show on the account of the name of his junior) which he had not yet completed.39
Which of the grandfathers–paternal or maternal– was favored in naming the grandchild, we cannot state definitely. There are no regulations about this in the Talmud. In many instances known to us from the Talmudof a grandson’s having the same name as his grandfather, it is the name of the paternal grandfather that the grandson bears. The custom among the Greeks was to name after the paternal grandfather. Among the Jews in post Talmudic times this was also the rule. It may, therefore, be assumed that in Talmudic times, likewise, the general practice was to choose the name of the paternal grandfather for the child. But it was not a fixed rule. There must have been instances where the son was given the name of his maternal grandfather. Thus, we read in the Book of Jubilees (11:14-15) that Terach’s wife’s name was Edna and her father’s name was Bram. Terach called the son whom Edna bore him “Abram, by the name of the father of his mother, for the latter had died before his daughter had conceived a son.” Although this legend is contradicted by the Talmudic tradition, according to which Abraham’s mother’s name was Amatlai, the daughter of Karnebo (B.B. 91a), yet the report in the Book of Jubilees at least reflects the custom in certain Jewish circles of naming the son after the maternal grandfather.
As to Hebrew or non-Hebrew names, there was in Talmudic times no real distinction made in practice. It is true that we find some Agadic utterances against the practice of changing a Hebrew name into a foreign one. And one of the virtues because of which Israel was redeemed from Egypt is said to have been that they retained their Hebrew names and did not change them to non-Hebrew ones–“shelo shinu et shemam” (Mechilta, Pischa V, and Lev. R. 32.5). But these utterances seem to have been directed against those who, by changing their names or calling their children by foreign names would seek to deny their Jewish identity, and not against the foreign names as such. A good Jew could well have borne a foreign name. And we find even among the rabbis themselves many whose names were non-Hebrewlike Antigonos, Alexander, Romanus, and others. In some instances, these non-Jewish names, especially among the Palestinian Jews, may have been accompanied by another, Hebrew name, as in the case of Judah Aristobolus and others. For the practice of being called by or having more than one name is already found in Talmudic times.40 In some cases, any of those non-Hebrew names would be substitutes for or merely translations of original Hebrew names. But there are also many instances where the non-Hebrew name was the original and only name, unaccompanied by any other.41
Throughout the entire Talmudic period, then, the people would not hesitate to give their children non-Hebrew names. And of the Jews outside of Palestine, it is expressly reported that the majority of them had names like the Gentiles (Gittin 11b).
In post-Talmudic times no radical change in the attitude towards names took place, and no marked development of the ideas governing the selection of names can be noticed. In the main, the beliefs and popular notions as to the purpose, significance, and function of proper names which were current in Talmudic times have been retained almost universally throughout the post- Talmudic and later Rabbinic times. Some slight modification of one idea or the other may have been made, or more or less emphasis may have been laid upon certain notions by one group or another. In some instances, even a reversal to older, more primitive ideas, which had been suppressed or rather ignored in Talmudic times, took place. These slight modifications in the popular beliefs and mild changes in the attitude towards proper names, however, brought about some changes in practice and very often put certain restrictions upon the selection of proper names, restrictions unknown in Talmudic times. But these changes and new practices are not universal. They differ among different groups of Jewry, and sometimes even vary in different communities of the same group.
One change we notice in post-Talmudic times that is almost universally accepted is the attitude of the people towards the names Abraham, Moses, Aaron, and David. The hesitancy of calling children by these names, which we have noticed in Talmudic times, has been entirely overcome. And ever since Gaonic times these names have become very frequent among all groups of Jewry. The belief or fear upon which this hesitancy in Talmudic times rested seems to have been entirely abandoned. Only in a modified form, as we shall see, we may find it still effective in later times.42
As regards the other changes that took place in post-Talmudic times, we must distinguish between the Sefardic and the Ashkenazic groups of Jewry. Most of the changes developed among the latter group. Among them the superstitious elements of the ideas of Talmudic times became more pronounced and were more emphasized, while the former group in general followed a more rational course in their attitude towards names and adhered more closely to the general practices of Talmudic times. Thus, we find that among the Sefardic Jews there was no fear or hesitancy in naming a child after a living person. There are many instances of a grandson being given the name of his grandfather even when the latter is still alive. To mention but a few outstanding examples: Judah Halevi had a grandson who was likewise named Judah to whom he seems to have been much attached, for in one of his poems he refers to this grandson with the words: “How can Judah [the grandfather ever forget Judah [the grandson]?”43 Likewise, R. Isaiah b. Elijah de Trani, an Italian rabbinical authority of the 13th century, was named like his maternal grandfather, R. Isaiah b. Mali de Trani. The grandfather lived to see the grandson grow up to be a prominent scholar, and he pointed to him with pride and satisfaction as his heir and successor, who would take his place in the scholarly world. 44 Likewise, Nahmanides said, as the paternal grandfather of a new-born child: “Although, as custom requires, the child should be called by my name [Moses], I forego the privilege and am willing that he be called Jonah, like his maternal grandfather.”45
We also find among the Sefardic Jews the practice of calling the son by the name of the father, even when the father is still living. This practice, however, is less frequent, and some of the Sefardim consider it rather strange. Thus, H.J.D. Azulai, in his commentary to Sefer Chasidim, no. 460 (ed. Lemberg, 1862), p. 44b says: “A man does not call a son by his own name.”46 At the same time he mentions an instance of a man by the name of Mordecai whose son was also named Mordecai. Azulai finds this rather strange. But we know from other sources that the practice was not infrequent among the Sefardim. Thus, Jacob Saphir in his Even Sapir I (Lyck, 1866), p. 51, reports that it is the custom among Jews in Yemen to name the child like his father, especially in a family that has previously lost children.47 It was considered a protection to give the child the name of the father. By this means, it was believed, the life of the child so named would be safeguarded and it would not share in the fate of its brothers and sisters who died young. To a certain extent this practice may have been motivated by the belief in the suggestive power of the name, shema garem, which would make the child grow up to be like his father or grandfather. But this was not the only determining factor in this practice. There seems to have been underlying it another superstitious idea which we found current in Talmudic times, viz., the belief in the fallibility of the angels. For in some circles of the Sefardic Jews, it was also believed that a father might be assured of a long life by naming his son like him.48It seems, therefore, that whatever belief in the fallibility of the Angel of Death was entertained among the Sefardic Jews, it not only did not deter them from naming children like living fathers or grandfathers, but it even encouraged the practice. For it was hoped that the mistake the Angel of Death might make by confusing the names would be in favor of the person sentenced to death (by mistaking him for another person by the same name against whom no decree of death was issued).
Among the Ashkenazic Jews, however, such risks were generally avoided. They would not rely on the hope that the Angel of Death would make a mistake in favor of the living. Hence, with a few exceptions, the general practice among the Ashkenazic Jews has been not to name a child after a living parent or relative. That this practice is based upon superstition is frankly admitted by the people who, governed by certain superstitious beliefs, avoid certain practices. Thus in Sefer Chasidim (ed. Wistinetzki, Berlin, 1891), no. 377, p. 114, we find the following statement: “Kol hanichushim keneged hamakpidim. Goyim shekorin livneihem beshem avihem, ve-ein bechach kelum, viyhudim makpidim al kach. Veyesh mekomot she-ein korin oto achar shemot hachayim, ela achar shekevar metu” (“Superstitions work harm only on those who heed them. Non-Jews call their sons by the names of their fathers and no harm results. But the Jews are careful not to do so. And in some places they do not name after living persons at all, but only after such as have already died.”) What these superstitious fears were that caused the Jews to avoid naming children after living persons, is not stated here. We can learn them, however, from other passages in the Sefer Chasidimas well as from utterances in other sources originating among German mystics.
One of these superstitions was that, due to the carelessness of the Angel of Death, harm may come to a child named like an older living person. For when the time comes for that older person to die, the Angel of Death, receiving instructions to take the life of the older person by that name, might instead take the life of the younger person of the same name. This belief in a possible mistake on the part of the Angel of Death, which we have found expressed in the story of the Talmud (Chagiga 3b-4a) cited above, was especially current and strongly believed in among the Ashkenazic Jews. This is evident from the following story told in Sefer Chasidim (ibid., no. 375, p. 114): An older teacher and a young student happened to get married in the same week. The young student died during the very week of the wedding. In a dream he appeared to his mother and told her that he actually had many years yet to live but his untimely death was brought about by a mistake on the part of the Angel of Death. The latter received the order to take the life of the bridegroom who got married during that week. Of course, the order referred to the older teacher who also had been married during the same week. But the Angel of Death did not understand the order correctly. And when he met the young student bridegroom alone on the street,49he thought the order for the bridegroom of the week referred to him, and so he killed him. The story goes on to tell that all the years which had been allotted to the young student and which he had not lived out were then–by another mistake of the heavenly clerks–assigned to the old teacher, thus prolonging his life. Finding on their records that the bridegroom who got married that week–referring to the young student– had yet so many years to live, and finding only one living bridegroom who got married that week (the old teacher), they accordingly credited his account with that number of years.
There is no doubt that out of consideration for the safety of the child, and as a precaution against possible danger resulting from mistakes on the part of the Angel of Death, they avoided naming the child after a living father or grandfather, or–as the custom was in some places–after any living person. And it was not only fear of the death of the child, but also fear of sickness or any other punishment that might be decreed against the older person and which the angel charged with the execution of that decree might by mistake inflict upon the child having the same name.50For the Angel of Death is not the only one among the angels that is stupid and careless. The other heavenly officers are not much smarter and no more careful than he.
There was still another consideration which prevented people from naming children after living parents or grandparents, and this was fear for the life of the parent or grandparent. This fear was based upon the old idea of the absolute identity of the soul or the very being of the person with his name, according to which it would be impossible for two persons to have one and the same name. This old idea was revived and found strong expression among German mystics. Thus, in the Sefer Tsiyoni by R. Menachem b. Meir of Speyer (Cremona, 1560), p. 26, we find the statement “Shemo shel adam hu gufo,” “A man’s name is the very essence of his being.” Tsiyoni then goes on to quote from a Sefer Hachayim, probably by R. Eleazer of Worms51 that “a man’s name is his soul.”52 This, in a manner, suggested the notion that by giving the name of a living person we cause, as it were, the soul of that person to enter the child. The necessary consequence resulting from this notion was the fear of naming a child after a living parent or grandparent. For, since the one soul identical with the name cannot at the same time be in two places or occupy two bodies, its entrance into the body of the child which is effected by giving the child the name identical with that soul, would necessitate its withdrawal from the other body, and the latter would have to die. In other words, only one person in possession of a certain soul identified with a special name can be living on earth. Giving to children the name of a living parent or grandparent would cause the death of the latter.53
We need not be surprised to find another result of this emphasized belief in the absolute identity of the soul of a person with his name. If the identity of the soul with the name made it (in the popular belief) impossible for two persons of one group or family living on earth to have the same name (because it would mean that one and the same soul occupies two bodies or is in two places on earth at the same time), then it should also preclude the possibility of two persons of one family or group having the same name even if one of them has already departed this earthly life. For it likewise involves the absurdity of assuming that one soul identical with a certain name occupies two places at the same time: that is, one in heaven in the assembly of the souls of the righteous, and one on earth in the body of the person to whom the name identical with the soul was given. And just as to give a child the name of a living parent means to remove the soul of that parent from its abode in the body of that parent and transfer it to the body of the child, so also to give the child the name of a departed parent must cause the soul of the latter to leave its heavenly abode, to come back to earth, and to enter the body of the child. This notion, as we have suggested above, was probably the reason why in Biblical times no child was named after a departed parent or grandparent. The same notion, while not common in the Middle Ages, must have been in the mind of some mystics, who, as a consequence, would object of their descendants being named after them. This seems to me to have been the case with R. Judah b. Samuel Hechasid. One of the mandates (no. 61) in his testament (published in the Sefer Hasidim, ed. Lemberg, 1862, p. 2) was that none of his descendants should be called by his name, Judah, nor by his father’s name Samuel: “Lo yikra ish mizar-o et beno Yehuda Shemu-el” The reason for this strange request has not been satisfactorily explained, though various theories about it have been advanced54 One of these theories is that Judah was conscious of having committed the sin of making use of the holy Names. And he had a tradition that the punishment for this sin is inflicted upon any of the descendants of the offender throughout all generations who are called by his name. Not being called by his name, they will not be held responsible for his sin.55The only interesting point in this theory, which is said to have been advanced by the descendants of Judah Hechasid, is the notion which it implies, i.e., that a descendant having the same name as the ancestor might be held responsible for these sins if he does not bear the same name as the offending ancestor. This is but another way of saying that the heavenly authorities may get mixed up in the case of persons of one family having the same name, confusing the one with the other and by mistake inflicting upon one the punishment intended for the other but as an explanation of the motive of Judah Hechasid’s strange mandate, it’s unsatisfactory. For at most it would only explain why he did not want any of his descendants to bear his own name, Judah. But it cannot explain why he forbade his descendants to call any of their children by the name of his father, Samuel. He could not have been so disrespectful to his father as to imply that he likewise committed any such grave sin for which all his descendants might have to suffer. The real reason for this strange request seems to me to have been the desire that he and his sainted father should not be disturbed in their heavenly bliss and should not be forced to leave the heavenly abode, to come down to earth again, and to enter the body of one of their descendants who would be named after them.
This instance of R. Judah Hechasid, however, is an exception to the rule that prevailed almost universally of preferring to have descendants named after their ancestors. People in general were very eager to leave, as it were, a name behind them. Even those people who believed in the absolute identity of the soul with the name, and that with the name given to the child the soul formerly identical with that name is made to come down from heaven and enter the body of the child–even they would not hesitate to name their children after departed ancestors. Superstition is usually overcome by another superstition. And, in this case, the belief that by preserving the name of the departed ancestor we preserve his soul (and in a manner secure for him a sort of immortality), counteracted the superstitious fear that he might be disturbed in his eternal rest and be forced to come down to earth again. People, in general, it seems, did not consider it such an unpleasant thing to be reborn again and, as it were, renew their life here on earth.
Of course, some people would consider it a misfortune to be reborn as a woman. For what man would like to live the life of a woman! Certainly, not one who all his life had daily recited the benediction thanking God for not having made him a woman. Hence, as we shall see below, some people objected to giving a girl the name of a male ancestor, for this would mean making the soul of that ancestor enter the body of the girl and thus live the life of a woman. But otherwise it was not considered so bad for the departed to be invited again to a visit on earth. With the gradual spread of the belief in the transmigration of the soul, Gilgul, it was believed that the souls of the departed–even of the great6 and righteous man–re-enter this world and are reborn.56 Assuming that the soul of the departed in coming down to earth by the process of Gilgul would naturally prefer to enter the body of a new-born child of his own family, it was even considered necessary and proper to give the child into whose body it was hoped the soul of the ancestor would enter the name of that ancestor. Thus, according to Isaac Lurya, when the father of an unborn child dies before the birth of the child, his soul enters the body of the child when it is born, and therefore the child should also be given the name of the father.57
A contemporary of Lurya, the famous Joseph Caro, even went so far as to say that with the name which a person receives he also receives something of the character of the very first or original bearer of that name. Thus, if one is named Abraham he will be inclined towards kindness.58 This is but another way of saying that with the name there is associated and intimately connected the soul, or at least a spark of the soul, of the original bearer of that name. For even though the person is named Abraham only after his grandfather by that name, and not directly after the Biblical Abraham, indirectly he is named after, and has at least part of the soul or character of, the Biblical Abraham. For the grandfather after whom the child is named was in turn named after his grandfather, and the latter again after another, and so forth up to the one first named after the Biblical Abraham. All the intermediary bearers of the name Abraham were merely temporary possessors of the name,59 and each one of them in turn transmitted it– together with the spark of the soul of Abraham associated with it–to all those who in the course of time were called Abraham. Caro, as is evident from his reference to the saying of the Talmud (Berachot 7b), has also in mind the idea of shema garem, i.e., that the name determines the fate and character of the person. This belief in the suggestive power of the name has been retained all through the post-Talmudic times and was combined with the practice of naming children after departed parents or ancestors. With Caro, however, it seems to have undergone a slight modification. It meant that when we give the child the name of a certain ancestor, we thereby give the angel in charge of providing the body of the child with a soul, directions, so to speak, as to which or what kind of soul he should put into the child (namely, the soul once associated and identical with the name of that ancestor), and thus we bring it about that the character and the fate of the child be like that of the former bearer of that name. The angels, who, as we have seen, according to popular belief in the power of the uttered word, heed sometimes orders by human voices (mistaking them to come from a higher authority), in this case also heed the directions contained in the name, believing that the name was given by a higher authority. Indeed, according to Lurya, when the father gives a name to his child, it is really not the father, but God speaking through the mouth of the father, who gives the name. God puts the name into the mouth of the father, and causes him to call his son by that name.60 Thus, even in the age when prophecy had long ceased in Israel, and when people could no longer make use of the Holy Spirit, names, even when given by any ordinary father, were believed to have been determined upon by an act of inspiration, and actually divinely ordained. No wonder, then, that the people believed in the power of the names to determine the fate and reveal the character of the persons to whom they were given. This belief in the suggestive, if not determinative, power of the name which with more or less emphasis has been current among the people throughout all time, accounts for the continuation of the practice of naming children with reference to some event, hope, or expectation (leshem hame-ora). This practice has been retained all through the ages up to modern times.61 Especially frequent is the practice of determining the choice of a name for a child by the date or season of its birth. A child born on a Saturday may be called Shabetai; one born on a holiday is named Yomtov; one born on the Day of Atonement is called Rachamim; one born on the ninth of Av is called Menachem; and one born on Purim or one whose circumcision takes place on Purim is called Mordecai, or if a girl is born on Purim she is called Esther. Sometimes the name is taken from the Scriptural portion read during the week in which the child was born. When the child is born during the week when the Sidra “Noach” is read, he is called Noah; when born during the week of the Sidra “Vayera,” which contains the account of the birth of Isaac (Gen. 21), he is named Isaac; when born during the week in which the Sidra “Shemot,” containing the story of Moses is read, he is called Moses.62 But there are also names referring to special conditions prevailing at the time for the birth. Thus, S.D. Luzzato called one of his sons, born at the time he was lecturing on Isaiah, by the name of Isaiah; another son, born at the time when he was engaged in his work on Targum Onkelos, he called Philoxenos, or Ohev Ger. Of course, Luzzato meant these names merely to be commemorative, and was not influenced in his choice of them by a belief in the suggestlveness of names (see Hillel Delia Torre in Kerem Chemed IV, no. 19).
But the majority of the people, whether giving their children names after departed relatives, or with reference to some occasion or event, have been–and consciously or unconsciously still are — influenced in the selection of a name by the above-discussed beliefs as to the possible influence of the name upon the child, or its effect upon the one after whom it is named. As these beliefs or superstitions are not shared by all people in a like degree, there developed among different people certain restrictions upon the selection of names, which may have been accepted and heeded by some people (or even the majority of the people) , but ignored and disregarded by others. These restrictions, originating in the popular beliefs, are endorsed or rejected by the respective authorities according to the degree in which they, the authorities themselves, accept, share in, or tolerate the underlying beliefs or superstitions. In the following I mention a number of such restrictions without attempting to be exhaustive.
(1) Some authorities object to the practice of giving to a boy the name of a girl and vice versa (see Moses Konitz in his Sefer Hamatsref I, no. 86. Wien, 1820, p. 56). But this practice has been widespread. In Talmudic times there were certain names common to men and women. Thus, one of the daughters of R. Hiyya was named Pazzi (Yevamot 65b), and Pazzi is also found as the name of a man.63 In medieval and modern times we find the name Simcha used as a name for a boy as well as for a girl, though in the latter case it is sometimes translated into German, and becomes Freude (see R. Samuel b. David Halevi in his Nachalat Shiv-a, Koenigsberg, 1858, p. 122). And it is a common practice to name a grandson after his grandmother, and a granddaughter after her grandfather. In cases where the name of the grandmother is not thought quite suitable for a boy, they change it slightly, giving a masculine form to the feminine name (e.g., when the grandmother’s name is Dinah they call the grandson Dan). Some people, however, object to calling a granddaughter after her grandfather. The reason for this objection is that it might be unpleasant to the departed grandfather, if his soul–identical with his name–would have to enter the body of a girl, and thus be made to live the life of a woman.64
(2) Some people would refrain from naming a child after a person who was killed or murdered by non-Jews for fear of bad luck, lest the sad fate of the former bearer of the name also befall the one named like him.65 The same superstitious fear underlies the hesitancy to name a child after a person who died young, for it is feared that it may have been the name that caused the untimely death of that person, and the child having the same name might suffer the same fate and be as short- lived as the former bearer of that name.66 In both of these cases, the fear is based upon the belief that the heavenly agent or Angel of Death might possibly make a mistake and confuse the one person with another of the same name. If, however, the people wish to preserve the name of the one who was killed or died young by naming someone after him, they usually combine with his name the name of another person, who lived to a ripe old age and died a natural death. The child, then–since it has two names–is clearly marked as another person, and mistakes on the part of the Angel of Death will thus be avoided.
(3) The same fear prevents some parents from naming their child after another child of theirs who died. Most authorities declare it permissible.67 Some authorities, however, advise–for safety’s sake–to combine another name with the name of the child who died, and call the new child by two names. It is reported of R. Elijah of Wilna that he recommended to a family whose children would die young to call their new child by two names–one after the dead brother or sister, and one after another person. This he is said to have declared to be a potent means by which to safeguard the life of the new child.68 Some authorities would even permit two living children in the same family to be called by one and the same name.69 They cite the case of R. Hisda, who had two sons who were called by the same name (see Rashi to Ketubot 89b, s.v. “Mar Yenuka”). It is, however, thought advisable to avoid such practice for fear of the “evil eye.”
(4) Some authorities would declare it prohibited to give a child the name of any Biblical personage prior to Abraham. This, however, is ignored by most authorities, as indeed names like Adam, Mahalalel, Noah, Enoch, and even Jephet have been frequent among Jewish people (see H.J.D. Azulai in his Shem Hagedolim I, Wien, 1864, p.3a-4a).
(5) There are a few authorities who would object to non-Hebrew or non-Jewish names (Commentary to Sefer Chasidim, no. 1139, edition Lemberg, 1862, p. 84a; and R. Moses Shick in his responsa Teshuvot Moharam Shick, Yoreh De-a, no. 169, Muncacz, 1881, p. 52d). But, as we have seen, even in Talmudic times non-Jewish names were in vogue among the Jews. And it has continued to be the practice in post-Talmudic times all through the Middle Ages and up to the present times to call children by non-Jewish names. Many great rabbinical authorities had non-Jewish names. Rabbinic law recognizes this practice and seeks to regulate the correct spelling of these non-Jewish names for use in legal documents, especially in Bills of Divorce (see Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha-ezer 129, and commentaries; and corap. Nachalat Shiv-a, pp. 110-122).
In most cases, however, these non-Jewish names are accompanied by a Hebrew name, designated as the Shem Hakodesh,70 the latter being used especially when the person is being called up to the Torah and in certain prayers recited by or on behalf of the person. The need for calling a person by a Hebrew name in connection with any religious performance, and especially in the recitation of prayers, is based upon the belief that the heavenly administration is conducted, and all its records kept, in Hebrew. The ministering angels are not believed to be great linguists. At any rate, whether they have any knowledge of foreign languages or not, they would ignore any communication addressed in any language other than Hebrew. They would not even pay attention to petitions expressed in Aramaic, which is cognate to Hebrew (Shabbat 12b).71 Hence, it is deemed advisable–according to popular belief–that when dealing with the heavenly administration, a person should be called and referred to by his or her Hebrew name.72
In this connection, another peculiar practice in regard to mentioning a person’s name for purposes of accurate identification in dealings with the heavenly authorities should be mentioned. In certain special prayers recited by or on behalf of a person,73 it is customary to add to the name of the person, for further identification, the name of the person’s mother, and not that of the person’s father. The person reciting the prayer for himself introduces himself with the phrase: “I, Thy servant So-and-so, the son of Thy handmaid So-and-so.” When others pray for him, he is described in the prayer as: “So-and-so, the son of Mrs. So-and-so.” Certain popular notions, hinted at in the Talmud and expanded on and more clearly expressed in the Zohar, are the basis for this practice. In certain incantations occasionally used or recommended by the Rabbis of the Talmud, the person is referred to as the son of his mother, i.e., “Pelanya bar Pelanita,” (Shabbat 66b, Pesachim 112a). And Abayei quotes his nurse, who so often gave him information about popular beliefs and superstitious practices, to the effect that in all magi cal formulas the person must be identified by giving his mother’s name (Shabbat, l.c.). The Talmud seemingly tolerates this practice in dealings with the demons. The assumption is either that the demons do not recognize marriage and still follow the customs of the age of matriarchy, or that they have their doubts as to who a person’s father is (comp. Zohar, Shemot, Lublin, 1872, p. 17b). The Zohar, however, goes farther and assumes that even when dealing with the angels or when wishing to get something from the powers above, one should identify himself in no uncertain manner, and hence mention the name of his mother and not that of his father (Zohar, Lech Lecha, Lublin, 1872, p. 84). This, of course, is contrary to the Jewish rule that children follow the father and should be recorded and identified as belonging to the family of the father (comp. B.B. 109b). Furthermore, it is not quite nice–to say the least–and rather disrespectful to the mother, if a prayer recited by or on behalf of her son contains the implication that there are some doubts as to who the actual father of her son is. So one could raise serious objections to this practice. But it has persisted and become widespread. (Comp. R. Eliyahu Gutmacher [1796-1874] in his work, Sukkat Shalom, ch. 5, Jerusalem,1883, pp. 295-334, who discusses the question thoroughly. He would compromise and consider the practice proper in such cases where the prayer, even though addressedto God, indirectly aims to have some restraining effect on the demons, seeking to forestall or counteract any harm they might seek to do.)
As a result of this belief that the heavenly authorities know and can identify a person only on the basis of the description furnished by his full name, “So-and-so, the son of So-and-so,” there developed in the course of time a whole system of tricks by which to hide a person from the heavenly agents and protect him from them. We have found that already in Talmudic times there was current the belief that a change in the name of a person can have the effect of nullifying the evil decree issued against him, for heavenly agents are unable to identify and apprehend him, since he now goes by another name.
In post-Talmudic times this belief became more pronounced and more generally accepted. Hence, the practice of changing a person’s name when he is sick became widespread, and a special ritual for performing such a change of name was developed in Gaonic times.74
The Angel of Death, so it was–and still is–believed, who comes to that person with a warrant to take his life, fails to identify him. He does not recognize in the person now going by another name the one upon whom the death sentence was decreed. To make this change of name more effective, and to make doubly sure that the Angel of Death would not be able to harm the person with the changed name, it is deemed wise to select as the new name one which in itself suggests long life.
They usually select names such as Chayim (“Life), Alter (“Old Man”), or Zeide (“Grandfather”).75 The Angel of Death will thus find before him not only a person against whom he has no warrant, but one whose very name declares that he must continue to live, grow old, and become a grandfather; certainly the Angel of Death will not dare to touch him. But there is still another danger threatening the person, even after his name has been changed, and this is that the Angel of Death might be looking for him merely as the child of his parents. This he is likely to do (especially when death has been decreed upon the child because of the sins of his parents,'” and the death warrant therefore calls for a child of So- and-so) , or he may simply ignore part of the name (which in full reads “So-and-so, the son of So-and-so”), and seek to identify the person merely as the child of So- and-so with no regard for its first or proper name. To meet this danger, a very ingenious practice was developed which frustrated all possible efforts of the Angel of Death to get at the sick child. This practice consists of changing the second part of its name, that part which contains the names of the parents, so that the child is no longer called “the son of Mr. and Mrs. A,” but “the son of Mr. and Mrs. B.” This is done not by giving the parents another name, but by giving the child other parents, as it were. The real parents sell their sick child to another couple,” to people against whom (judging from the fact that all their own children are alive and healthy) there seems to be no charge in the heavenly records. The sick child is now considered the child of Mr. and Mrs. B, the new parents who acquired him. This transaction absolutely confounds the Angel of Death. If he looks for the child not under his first personal name, but under the name of his former parents (as the child of Mr. and Mrs. A) , he cannot find it, for the child is no longer called so; and if his order was to punish the parents by taking their child away from them, he finds that these parents no longer have a child that could be taken away from them. In either case, the Angel of Death has to report back to heaven that he could not execute his order.
Still another method of safeguarding the life of a child is by not giving it any name at all, or–when a name is given–to keep it secret for a time, so that it is not registered in the heavenly records. Of course, when a child has no name, or when its name is not recorded, the heavenly authorities do not know it. They cannot issue any decree against it, and there is no way of finding it. This method is resorted to by families whose children die in infancy. They leave the child unnamed for a certain time until–as they believe–there is no more danger for the child, or until it passes the critical period of infancy. Then they give it its name.78 As to who should give the child the name, there has never been any inflexible rule or fixed regulation. In Biblical times, it was usually the father who would give the name of his child. In many instances, however, it was the mother. We also gave an instance of the foster mother’s naming the child, as was the case with Moses (Ex. 2:10). Sometimes it was done by neighbors, as was the case with Obed, the son of Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 4:17). In one instance, the prophet, in the name of God, gave the child a name in addition to the name given by the parents, as was the case with Solomon, whom the prophet named Yedidya (II Sam. 12:25).
In Talmudic times, it seems, no change was made in the custom which obtained in Biblical times, although we have no definite report in the Talmud on this point. In Midrash Kohelet R. (to Kohelet 7:1) there is a reference to the name given to a person by his father and mother, and in Pirkei deR. Eliezer (ch. 48) it is said that both parents of Moses gave him a name. But this may only mean that both parents agreed upon the name by which he should be called, and not that they both actually pronounced the name upon him. It may be assumed that the practice in Talmudic times was the same as in Biblical times. When the father was there, he would actually name the child. When he was not there, the mother would do it. In one instance reported in the Talmud (M.K..25b) of a child born after the death of his father, it is said that “they,” the people present — neighbors or members of the family — gave the child the name of his father. This practice would correspond to the practice of neighbors naming the child as recorded in Ruth 4:7. In post-Talmudic times, and up to modern times, the same rule has obtained. It has, however, become customary that another person–the Mohel, the rabbi, the cantor, or whomever the father delegates to do so—actually performs the rite of naming the child. But it is still the right of the father to decide upon the name. Popular custom in some countries gives the mother the right to decide upon the name of her firstborn child and to name it after her parents or relatives.'” But most authorities object to this custom, insisting that it is the indisputable right of the father to decide upon the name of the child.80 In practice, however, these questions are first settled between the parents, and after they both agree upon the name, the father tells it to the officiant, who pronounces it over the child.
With respect to the time when the name should be given to the child, there have been some developments in the course of time. In Biblical times, the child was given its name immediately at its birth (see Loew, op. cit., p. 94, and comp. A.S. Herschberg, Hatekufa CCVI, p. 257, for references). In Talmudic times, though no express regulation about it can be found, it seems that it was the usual custom to name the male child at the circumcision ceremony on the eighth day after its birth (see Luke 1:59 and 2:21; and Pirkei deR. Eliezer, ch.48).81 This has become the established practice from post-Talmudic times up to this day.82 In case the circumcision is postponed because of the sickness of the child, the naming of the child is also postponed till the time of the circumcision. In case a child is to remain uncircumcised, as when it comes from a family whose children die as a result of circumcision (Arel shemetu echav mechamat mila), the name is given to the child at the time when his father is called up to the Torah. And there is difference of opinion as to whether it is preferable to do so before the child is eight days old or after.83 In the case of girls there has been no uniformity of practice. Among the Sefardim in the Orient, the naming of a baby girl is a home ceremony. The parents invite guests to a meal at which the name of the newly born daughter is announced. Among the Italian and Ashkenazic Jews it was customary to name the girl in the synagogue on the Sabbath when the mother, for the first time after birth of the child, could visit the synagogue (Loew, op. cit., p. 104). There is, however, no fixed rule about this. Present day custom among Polish Ashkenazic Jews varies in different localities. In some places it is still customary to name the girl right after she is born.84 In others, the name is given in the synagogue on the Sabbath or on a Monday or Thursday, when the father comes to the synagogue and is called up to the Torah.
The prayer recited at the naming of a boy has become part of the service at the circumcision ceremony. The prayer at the naming of a girl now usually has a very short form. In the prayer “He who blessed” (“Mi sheberach”) , recited for the mother, there is inserted the phrase, “May also bless the girl that was born to her and whose name should be called So-and-so.85
As a result of the above survey of the different attitudes towards names and the various rituals and practices resulting from them, we may state that there have never been any definite laws or uniform fixed regulations on these questions. It was all a matter of custom and usage, which were not uniform. Custom is subject to changes from time to time and from place to place, and the customs relating to the naming of children are no exception to this rule. Since these customs are governed by certain ideas and beliefs, which not all people share in the same degree, it Is not strange to find that the customs themselves differ so. Some people are more superstitious, others are more rational. It is well to recall the saying, quoted above, of one who himself was inclined to superstition, the author of the Sefer Chasidim: “Superstitions can affect only those who believe in them.” Hence, while it is but proper to follow the custom established by the community or the group, it actually makes no difference what names we give to children. For no matter what name a person is given by others, what ultimately counts is only the name which he makes for himself by his actions and his con• duct .
Jacob Z. Lauterbach
1 Comp. on these questions Cheyne-Black, Encyclopedia Biblica III, pp. 3264-3307.
2 Comp, Walter Schulze, “Der Namensglaube bei den Babylonern,” in Anthropos XXVI (1931). pp. 895,928, where the ideas as to the significance of names in Biblical times among the Hebrews and other Semitic peoples are discussed and the literature on the subject given.
3 Comp. Schulze, op. cit., p. 909.
4 Comp. ibid., p. 906. The changes in the names of Joseph (Gen. 41:45), of Elyakim (II Kings 23:34), of Mattaniah (ibid., 24:17), and of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Dan. 1:17) were made because of the change that had taken place in their position. Likewise, when–as the prophet predicts–God will in the future “call His servants by another name” (Isa. 65:15), it will be in order to indicate the change in their fortunes or position. See also ibid., 62:2.
5 So it was understood by the rabbis of the Talmud (Sota 34b). Comp. also Mechilta, Amalek III (Friedmann, 57ab).
6 The possibility of such an interpretation of the phrase “Yakum al shem achiv hamet” is rejected by the rabbis of the Talmud. See Sifrei, Deut. 289 (Friedmann, 125b) and Yevamot 24a.
7 Comp., however, Mechilta, Pischa 5 (Friedmann, 5a), where the passage “Ve-omer hamal-ach hago-el” is probably a later interpolation.
8 It is true that in I Chron. 3:6-8, in the list of David’s children, Eliphelet is mentioned twice, and according to Rashi, ad loc, David had two children by the name of Eliphelet, and the second child was named after the one that had died. But aside from the fact that these lists are not reliable (comp. the list of David’s children in II Sam. 5:14-16, where it is stated that only one child by the name of Eliphelet was born to David) , the Book of Chronicles was written at a later period, and it reflects the ideas of its time, not those of the time of David.
9 Perhaps it was thought that since the father of the grandfather was named Serug (so that the grandfather’s full name was “Nachor, the son of Serug”), he was by his full name sufficiently distinguished from the grandson (whose full name was “Nachor, son of Terach”), and was thus marked as a separate individual. Hence, since the circumstances at birth, or other considerations, made it desirable to call the child Nachor, it was deemed proper and safe to call him so. A custom, however, to name after grandparents would involve the repetition of the full name; e.g., if Nachor, the son of Terach, would name his son Terach, there would be two persons by the full name of “Terach, son of Nachor,” indistinguishable from one another. This was inconceivable.
10 Gomp. L. Loew, Die Lebensalter in der juedischen Literatur (Szegedin, 1875), p. 94, and note 49 on p.385.
11 The list in I Chron. 5:30-41, which disagrees with the two lists in Ezra, is not to be considered as authentic. Comp. Loew, op. cit., p. 385, note 50.
12 Op. cit., pp. 94-95.
13 Against Zunz, “Namen der Juden,” in Gesammelte Schriften II (Berlin, 1876), p. 19. The name Jadua mentioned in Neh. 12:11 and 22 is probably the same as Yojada. So Jadua had the same name as his grandfather (or great grandfather?), and he was given this name long before Alexander came to Palestine, that is, before the Jews had any contact with the Greeks.
14 See G. Buchanan Gray, “Children Named after Ancestors in the Aramaic Papyri; from Elephantine and Assuan,” in Studien zur Semitischen Philologie und Religions- geschichte, Julius Wellhausen zum Siebzigsten Geburtstag (Glessen, 1914), pp. 163ff.
15 I quote according to the reading in the edition of Theodor Albeck (comp. Commentaries). The reading given in Yalkut to Chronicles, 1073 (“Harishonim, al yedei shelo hayu makirin et yichusan, hayu motsi-in leshem hame-ora, aval anu, she-anu makirin et yichusenu, anu motsi-in leshem avoteinu”) is a gross mistake, based upon a misunderstanding of the purport and meaning of R. Jose’s saying.
16 The term “Shetuki” (“a silent one”) designates one who could not prove his pure Jewish descent, as the records were silent about him. Hence Abba Saul would designate him as “Beduki” (“one who is to be investigated”). The meaning of those terms was misunderstood, hence the fanciful interpretations in the Gamara (Kiddushin 70a and 74a; Yevamot 100b). As to these records on family registers which were kept in the archives of the Temple, see Lauterbach, The Three Books Found in the Temple at Jerusalem (New York, 1918), and comp. also S. Klein in Tsiyon (Jerusalem, 1930), vol. IV, who, without having seen my essay, independently arrived at almost the same conclusion (i.e., that the three books kept in the Temple were genealogical records and not Torah copies).
17 An Ammonite proselyte by the name of Judah (Yehuda ger Amoni) is mentioned in the Mishna (Yadayim 4.4), and an Egyptian proselyte, a disciple of R. Akiba, by the name of Benjamin is mentioned in the Tosefta (Kiddushin 5.4), though some texts have the reading Minyamin instead of Binyamin, but it is the same name.
18 Comp. A. Marmorstein, “Der heilige Geist in der rabbinischen Legende,” in Archiv fuer Religions- wissenschaft XXVIII (1930), pp. 286-303, especially pp. 291ff.
19 Thus, Jesus is reported to have been given his name Yeshua to suggest or predict that “he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Whether this actually was the intention of those who gave him his name, or they merely named him after a relative, is for our purpose irrelevant. At any rate, it shows that the writers of the Gospel assumed the prevalence of the custom of naming children leshem hame-ora. The names Chisda and Tavyomi in Talmudic times were names leshem hame-ora. So also, no doubt, were the names Kidor and Ltchluchit.
20 This, in my opinion, is the meaning of the phrase “Havei kishgaga sheyotse-a milifnei hashalit,” which occurs in the Talmud (Ketubot 62b, and passim) in explanation of how the evil spoken, even without the intention to wish it, came to happen. I hope to deal with this subject more exhaustively elsewhere.
21 Hence, one should never open his mouth to say something which Satan might hasten to bring about: “Al yiftach adam piv lasatan” (Berachot 19a, and parallel) . There is another aspect to this belief which is not connected with the belief in the fallibility of the angel; and this is that Satan may simply cite the statement uttered by the person as an argument against him, claiming that the person himself admitted his guilt or invited the misfortune.
22 The expression “lif-amim” (“sometimes” or “often”) is merely put in in order not to deny the principle of free will.
23 “Hu ve-ishto machlifin shemoteihen balaila mishum nichush.” And Rashi comments on this: “Hu bishmah vehi bishmo yesh bo mishum darchei ha-Emori.”
24 “Arba-a devarim mekare-in gezar dino shel adam. Elu hen: tsedaka, tse-aka, shinui hashem veshinui ma- aseh….veyesh omerim, af shinui makom.” Yet there is no instance of an actual practice of changing the name in case of sickness recorded in the Talmud. Comp. Loew, op. cit., p. 108.
25 See R. Nissim (Gerondi) in his commentary to Alfasi, ad loc, who explains: “…Deshinui hashem gorem lo la- asot teshuva, sheyomar belibo, Eini oto ha-ish shehayiti kodem lachen, vetsarich ani letaken ma-asai.”
26 Thus M. Coucy in his Semag Commandments, 17 (Venice, 1547), p. 90a, plainly explains: “…Kelomar, she-ani acher, ve-eini oto ha-ish she-oseh otan hama-asim.” (The one who changes his name as much as declares — to the angel looking for him or to whomsoever it may concern—”I am not the person you are looking for. I am not the one who committed the sins you charge me with.”) Mohammed also believed that by changing the name of a person, the person himself also becomes changed. See J. Wellhausen, Reste Arabischen Heidentums (2nd ed., Berlin, 1897), p. 199.
27 Some authorities would identify this Mary the hairdresser with Mary the mother of Jesus. See Tosafot, ad loc, s.v. “have shechiach,” and comp. S. Krauss, Das Leben Jesu nach juedischen Quellen (Berlin, 1902), p. 276ff, note 9. Perhaps, however, “megadela se-ar nasi” does not mean “hairdresser,” but one who herself had long hair, and there may be here an allusion to the Mary who “anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair” (John 12:3).
28 As to the heavenly agents carrying out their orders, sometimes without exact knowledge as to what they are doing, see Rashbam, quoted by Tosafot Yom Tov to M. Avot III.16, who prefers the reading of the Mishna (“mida- atan veshelo mida-atan”), and interprets it as referring to the agents or collectors who exact payment from man. Comp. also saying in Mechilta, Pischa XI (Friedmann l1b), which, according to the correct text established in my forthcoming edition of the Mechilta reads: “Mishenitena reshut lamal-ach lechabel, eino mavchin bein tsadik lerasha.”
29 The idea that the ministering angels are liable to make mistakes in the identity of a person if that person is referred to merely by name is, in my opinion, presupposed in the following statement in the Talmud (Berachot 34a): “Kol hamevakesh rachamim al chavero, ein tsarich lehazkir shemo, shene-emar, ‘El na refa na lah,’ vela kemidbar shemah deMiriam,” “When one prays for mercy for his fellowman, it is not correct [ein tsarich here does not mean ‘it is not necessary,’ but rather lo nachon, ‘it is not correct’; see Jacob Raischer in Iyun Ya-akov, commentary to Ein Ya-akov, ad loc.] to refer to him by merely mentioning his name. For when Moses prayed for Miriam it is said ‘Heal her now, 0 God, I beseech Thee’ (Num. 12:13). He pointed to Miriam and did not merely refer to her by name.” By pointing to the person for whom one prays mistakes on the part of the angels are less likely to happen.
30 Thus Abba b. Abba, the father of Samuel, the famous Babylonian Amora of the first generation, called his son by the name of the prophet Samuel, no doubt, to suggest that his son may become like the prophet. He thereby wished to help bring into fulfillment the promise which R. Judah b. Bathyra had given him, that he would have a son who would be like the prophet Samuel. See Midrash to Sam. 10:3 (ed. Buber, Krakau, 1893), p. 39a.
31 The expression “dela maskinan bishmeihu,” which literally means “we do not bring [them] up by their name,” may have an allusion to the belief that if you call the name of the ghost, it appears. Hence, we do not wish to name a child like them, for fear that whenever we will call the child by its name we might–by the mere mentioning of that name–cause the ghost, the original bearer of that name, to come up from the grave and appear before us. Comp. the remark by Schulze (op. cit., p. 92): “Der Namesruf bewirkt die Gegenwart seines Traegers. Man vermeidet deshalb Namen, deren Traeger unhellvoll sind.”
32 Comp. Pitchei Teshuva to Yoreh De-a 116.6, s.v. “liydei sakana.”
33 The name Abraham, it seems, was never given to a child in Talmudic times. In the passage of Gen. 49:1 the words “Avraham, Yitschak, Ya-akov” are omitted in some editions (see Theodor, ad loc, and comp. S. Krauss, Talmudische Archaeologie II (Leipzig, 1911), p. 113, and note 136 on p. 440). There occurs, however, the name Abram–the original name of Abraham–as the name of an Amora (Gittin 50a). See, however, Krauss, op. cit., note 138 on p. 440, and comp. H.J.D. Azulai in Shem Hagedolim I, s.v. “Avraham,” no. 34 (Wien, 1865), p. 3b. It is likely to assume that since Father Abraham was not to be called by his former name Abram, there was no hesitancy felt in calling children by that name. But they would avoid calling a child Abraham.
34 The name Moses occurs but once in the Talmud (B.B. 174b) as the name of a man, Mosheh bar Itsra, who, it seems, was not a teacher. No teacher of Talmudic times, Tanna or Amora, was ever called by the name of Moses (see Azulai, op. cit., s.v. “Mosheh,” no. 110, p. 59a, who assumes that there was a mystic reason for avoiding to give the name Moses to any teacher–“Velo haya shum tana o amora shenikra Mosheh, vehu pele vesod.” The name “Miasheh” is not identical with “Mosheh,” as assumed by Graetz (Gesch. , vol. 4, note 19 [Leipzig, 1908], p. 433). Comp. also Krauss, op. cit., note 144 on p. 441.
35 Aaron occurs only once (B.K. 109b) as the name of a teacher of the last generation of the Baylonian Amora- im. The saying in Avot deRabbi Natan, Version A., ch. XII, is merely of a homiletical nature. Comp. Krauss, op. cit., p. 441, note 140.
36 David occurs but once according to some variant reading in Yevamot 115b. See marginal note in Talmud, edition Wilna 1908. This reading, however, is doubtful. It is missing in the text of the other editions.
37 Krauss, op. cit., p. 13, assumes that it was merely reverence for those great ancestors which prevented people from calling a child by their name, just as Christians would not call a child by the name of Jesus. But mere reverence would not constitute a mystery, which Azulai assumes as the reason. To me, it seems that the avoidance of calling children by the names of these ancestors was due to a hesitancy to transfer the very being or soul of any of those ancestors to another person. These great souls should not be disturbed and made to come to earth again.
38 See for reference to some instances, Krauss (op. cit., II, p. 440, note 131, and A.S. Herschberg, in Hatekufa XXV, p. 396, note 4, to which many other instances could be added. Comp. also Jacob Mann, “Rabbinic Studies in the Gospels,” in Hebrew Union College Annual 1 (Cincinnati, 1924), p. 328.
39 This, as we shall see, was actually the beLief among the oriental Jews in later times, who would seek to secure for the older man a prolonged life by naming his child or grandchild after him.
40 Comp. Herschberg, Hatekufa XXV, pp. 392ff.
41 Comp. Zunz, op. cit., p. 15, and Herschberg, op. cit., pp. 395ff.
42 As in the case of Judah Hechasid and his father.
43 “Ve-eich yishkach Yehuda et Yehuda?” Divan, ed. S.Z. Luzzatto (Lyck, 1864), p. 3b; comp. Luzzatto’s note 9, ibid., p. 4a.
44 See Weiss, Dor V (Wilna, 1904), p. 94.
45 “Af al pi shetsarich likroto al shemi, ani rotseh sheyikare Yona, al shem zekeno avi imo, mishum yizrach hasheraesh uva hashemesh. Ad shelo zarecha (lashon nekiya tachat shake-a?) shimsho shel zeh, zarecha shimsho shel zeh.” Quoted by R. Solomon b. Simeon b. Zemah in his responsa Sefer Harashbash, no. 291 (Leghorn, 1742), 56d.
46 “Ulechol haminhagim ein adam kore beno beshem atsmo.” Comp. also Sefer Sharvit Hazahav Hechadash, Hanikra Beit Avot by R. Schabsza Lipschitz (Muncacz, 1914), ch. CIII, no. 11, p. 59b.
47 “Zot minhagam lisgula: mi asher lo yekayemu banav, rachmana litslan, yikra livno bechayav bishmo.
48 see Lipschitz, op. cit., ch. VIII, no. 16 (p. 60b), quoting S.A. Wertheimer of Jerusalem: “Etsel acheinu Benei Yisra-el anshei Erets Sefarad biYerushalayim mekubal lisgula la-arichat yemei ha-av sheyikare beno bechayav bishmo.”
49 Which, according to popular superstition, he should not have done (see Pirkei deR. Eliezer, ch. 16: “Chatan eino yotse lashuk levado”; and comp. Berachot 54b).
50 in this connection, it should be noticed that the warning against a marriage in case the bride has the same name as the mother of the groom or the bride’s father has the same name as the groom, expressed in the Testament of R. Judah Hechasid (published in Sefer Chasidim, Lemberg, 1862, p. lb), is also based upon the fear of an error by the heavenly agent, who might not know to distinguish between two persons by the same name in one family or one household, and by mistake might inflict upon the one person ills decreed against the other with the same name. This danger is especially great in case the names of the respective parents of the two persons with the same name are also alike, as when, e.g., the father of the girl is Isaac the son of Abraham and the groom’s name is also Isaac the son of Abraham, or when the name of both is Jacob the son of Isaac the son of Abraham (meshulamim), Sefer Chasidim, 477, Lemberg, 1862, p. 45d; and comp. R. Abraham Danziger in his Sefer Chochmat Adam, (Warsaw, 1914), p. 140. For in such cases the angel will be absolutely at a loss to distinguish the one from the other. Comp. the interesting remark in Sefer Chasidim (ibid.): “Although one should not believe in superstitions, yet it is better to be heedful of them” (“Af al pi shelo lenachesh yesh lachush”). This is a sort of an apology.
51 See Benjacob, Otsar Hasefarim, no. 560. Benjacob’s suggestion (ibid., no. 559) that Tsiyoni may have had reference to another Sefer Chayim, ascribed to Ibn Ezra, does not seem plausible.
52 “Umatsati beSefer Hachayim ki shemo shel adam hu nishmato.”
53 of course, if the older person whose life is thus endangered by his name being given to the child does not mind the risk, his name is given to his grandchildren. There have been such exceptions even among Ashkenazic Jews. See Noheg Ketson Yosef by Joseph ben Moses Kossman (Hanau, 1718), p. 22a.
54 Comp. Jacob Emden in his Berit Migdol Oz (Jitomir, 1874, p. 12).
55 Comp. Responsa Mishbetsot Zahav by R. Nathan Amram, no. 42 (Leghorn, 1851), p. 39, and in the Maftechot there, p. 73d, where he cites this theory in the following words: “[Judah Hechasid] lehora-at sha-a hishtamesh kama pe-amim bishmot hakodesh, ulefi shehaya mityare lenafsho hatehora leshema, chas vechalila, ya- anishuhu al kacha tamid kol hayamim, lachen tsiva vaya- amod leval yikre-u bishmo olamim, sheken haya masoret beyado, zichrono livracha, shekol mi shehishtamesh beyamav bishmot hakodesk, kol zeman shehaya nimtsa bezar-o hashem hahu atsmo, behechreach sheyegalgelu alav et hakol, velachen lo matsa terufa lazeh im lo behashbit zichro miyotse-ei chalatsav, zechuto yagen aleinu.”
56 See Hayyim Vital in Sefer Hagilgulim, ch. IV (Frankfurt, 1684), pp. 3bff and 35b-36b.
57 See Emanuel Rik in Mishnat Chasidim (Amsterdam, 1727), p. 33b: “Umi shemet vehiniach ishto me-uberet veyoledet ben, hu mitgalgel bo.”
58 See Magid Meisharim to section Shemot (Amsterdam, 1708), p. 21a: “Razin dishmeihen….deman de-ikri Avraham noteh letsad asiyat chesed.”
59 See Amud Ha-avoda by R. Baruch b. Abraham (Czernowitz, 1854), pp. 41c,d.
60 See Jacob ibn Habib in Hakotev to Ein Ya-akov on Berachot 7b, who interprets the saying of R. Eleazar to mean that God put into the mouth of Leah the name which she gave to her son (“Ki Hashem yitbarach sam befiha keri-at shem zeh”). See also Emanuel Rik (op. cit., p.85): “Vehashem shekore laben, Hakadosh Baruch Hu mazmino befiv.” Comp. R. Bezalel b. Solomon Slutzk in his Amudeiha Shiv-a (Prague, 1674), no. 33, p. 4.
61 Comp. such names as Tavyomi (Yom Tov) and Chisda in Talmudic times, and Mevaser, Chefets, or Matsliach in Gaonic times.
62 See A.J. Glassberg, Zichron Berit Larishonim (Berlin, 1892), p. 256; Lipschitz, op. cit., ch. VIII, no. 31, p.
62b; and comp. R. Joseph Hahn in Yosef Omets (Frankfurt, 1928), p. 240.
63 See Hyman, Toledot Tana-im Va-amora-im, s.v., p. 1010. Likewise, in the Bible we find that Atalyah, Abiyah, and Noadyah were used as names for men as well as for women. See Ch. D. Ginsburg, The Massorah, vol. III (London, 1885), p. 194.
64 See Lipschitz, op. cit., ch. VIII, no. 37, p. 64.
65 Id., op. cit., ch. VIII, no. 10, p. 59a, where, however, the remark is added that if one does not mind this fear of bad luck, God will protect him from harm (“Uman dela kafed bazeh, shomer peta-im Adonai”).
66 Comp. Sefer Chasidim, no. 363-364.
67 See responsa Adoni Paz by Ephraim B. Samuel Hekshir, no. 25 (Altona, 1743), p. 38 (and comp. Pitchei Teshuva to Yoreh De-a 116.6); responsa Beit Yitschak by R. Isaac Schmelkes to Yoreh De-a, part II, no. 163 (Przemysl, 1895), p. 129.
68 See Sefer Aliyot Eliyahu by Heshil Lewin (Wilna, 1856), p. 67, note 51.
69 Responsa Adoni Paz, no. 34, p. 40a.
70 This Shem Hakodesh is sometimes a translation of the foreign name, but in some cases it is an altogether different name. See Zunz, op. cit., pp. 26ff. In this connection we should mention the ceremony of Hollenkreisch, which—according to some authorities– took place when boys were given their secular name, after Shem Hakodesh had been given during the circumcision ceremony. As this ceremony was performed while they placed the child in the cradle, the name given to him at that occasion is designated as Shem Ha- arisa. For a description of this ceremony of Holikreish or Cholekreish, the etymology of the word, and the superstitions suggested by the ceremony, see Loew, op. cit., pp. 104-105; J. Perles, “Die Berner Handschrift des kleinen Aruch,” in Jubelschrift zum Siebzigsten Geburtstage des Prof. Dr. H. Graetz (Breslau, 1887), p. 26, and M. Guedeman, Geschichte des Erziehungswesens etc. III (Wien, 1888), p. 104ff.
71 The saying in the Talmud reads “She-ein mal-achei hasharet makirin bilshon Arami,” and Asheri (quoted in Beit Yosef to Orach Chayim 101) explains it to mean that the angels would not recognize the Aramaic language, and that it is disdainful to them, hence, they would not pay attention to petitions spoken in it (“Zeh meguneh be- eineihem lehizakek lo”) . That does not mean that they do not understand Aramaic. Comp. also responsum by Sherira Gaon in Harkavy’s Teshuvot Hage-onim (Berlin, 1885), no. 373, p. 188.
72 In this connection, another popular belief with regard to Hebrew names and the angels should be mentioned. As soon as a man has died and been buried– so it was believed–the Angel of Death comes to his grave and beats him and asks him for his name, for the purpose of identifying him and examining his record (see Masechet Chibut Haicever in Yalkut Haro-im, Warsaw, 1885, p. 80, and comp. the commentary Chesed Le-Avraham, ad loc) . Of course, the person must give his name in Hebrew, otherwise the angel would not pay any attention to his answer and keep on beating him. It is, therefore, necessary for every person to make sure that he will remember his Hebrew name after death. This he can do by reciting every day after his daily prayers a verse from the Bible in Hebrew which contains his name or at least some allusion to or reminder of his name (see Tikun Chibut Hakever in Kitsur Shalah, by R. Yehiel Michael Epstein, Warsaw, 1864, pp. 101b-102b).
73 Especially in the prayer “Mi sheberach” for the sick; also in the prayer beginning “Ribbono shel olam,” recited on the Three Festivals at the opening of the Ark before taking out the Torah scrolls.
74 R. Jeroham b. Meshullam (first half of the 14th century) in his Sefer Toledot Adam VeChava, part I (Kopys, 1808), p. 182a, refers to, and in part quotes, a ritual for effecting the change of name, instituted by the Geonim (“shetikenu hage-onim”). It is to be recited in an assembly of ten persons by an expert reader who also holds a scroll of the Torah in his hands. The ritual in full is found in Machzor Bologna (1540), sig. 23, leaf 4, and in Siddur Hatefila Im Hayotserot, Ritus Rome (Mantua, 1557), pp. 227bff. Comp. also “Siddur Shinui Hashem” in Kitsur Hashalah by Epstein (Warsaw, 1864), p. 101b. In this ritual, the sick person is given a new name and the heavenly authorities are notified and requested to take cognizance of this change in name and to consider the person with the new name as not identical with the person with the old name, so that whatever decrees may have been issued against the person with the old name should not be executed upon this person with his new name: “Ve-im niknesa mita, al peloni zeh lo niknesa; ve-im nigzera gezera ra-a, al peloni zeh lo nigzera. De-ish acher hu, vechivriya chadasha hi, uchekatan shenolad lechayim tovim.” Comp. also H.J.D. Azulai in his Avodat Hakodesh (Warsaw, 1879), p. 109, where it is assumed that the change has also the effect of bringing into the person a new and purer and holier soul: “Lehamshich lo nefesh chadasha ukedosha.”
75 There are some who follow another method for selecting the new name: the scroll of the Torah is opened and the first name of any of the Biblical heroes they happen to strike upon is selected as the new name for the sick person. See S. Baer, Sefer Totse-ot Chayim (Roedelheim, 1862), p. 19.
76 See Shabbat 32b.
77 See Sefer Chasidim (ed. Wistinetzki) , p. 365, and comp. Azulai’s commentary to Sefer Chasidim (edition Lemberg), no. 245.
78 See Lipschitz, op. cit., VIII, no. 28, p. 62, and comp. commentary on the Torah by Ba-alei Hatosafot to Gen. 5:28 (Warsaw, 1904), p. 5: “Metushelach hatsadik natan lo [leLemech] etsa shelo yemaher likro lo [livno Noach] shem, lefi she-anshei hador mechashefim hayu, veyihyu mechashefim oto im yede-u shemo.”
79 See Lipschitz, op. cit., VIII, no. 35, pp. 63ab.
80 Ibid. Comp. also Abraham Meyuhas, Sefer Bisde Ha- arets, part III, Responsum 22 (Leghorn, 1788), p. 41a.
81 Comp. Krauss, Archaeologie II, ch. V, and note 123, p. 439; also J. Mann, op. cit., p. 326.
82 See Hagahot to Sefer Minhagim by Tyrnan (Warsaw, 1709), p. 67, and compare Kaufman Cohen in Sefer Chukei Da-at (Sadilkow, 1835), p. 66b.
83 See Glassberg, op. cit., p. 248, and Lipschitz, op. cit. , VIII, no. 2, p. 58b.
84 Lipschitz, ibid., no. 3, p. 58b.
85 As to the original, longer forms of this formula, see Glassberg, op. cit., pp. 256-257.
S.B. Freehof, “Naming a Child after a Gentile Grandparent,” Modern Reform Responsa, pp.134ff.
If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.